Environment, Issues and Implications

In determining how to give best effect to its strategic direction the Department takes account of the environment in which it operates and the  issues that impact upon its operations. These key environmental factors and their implications are set out in this section.

Demographic information is based on census data from Statistics New Zealand, New Zealand Police crime statistics reports, the Ministry of Justice conviction and sentencing report for 2004, the Ministry of Justice December 2004 prison population forecast and the Department of Corrections November 2003 census of prison inmates and home detainees.

General Trends in Crime

Given its core role of administering sentences imposed by the courts on individual offenders, trends in criminal offending are perhaps the single most important environmental consideration for the Department.

Because many offences are either not reported or detected, true rates of crime in the wider community are not measurable. The best substitute is the National Survey of Crime Victims, which is conducted every five years by the Ministry of Justice. The most recent surveys, in 1996 and 2001, highlight similar levels of victimisation.1

The total number of crimes, across all categories of crime recorded by the Police for 2004, was 4.7 percent lower than the previous 12 months and was the lowest rate of reported offences since 1983.

However, the more serious crimes (violence and sex offences) increased sharply during the early 1990s, and again in the first few years of the present decade. While no further increase has occurred more recently, these numbers are currently being maintained at relatively high levels.

Police crime resolution rates have also steadily increased in recent years. The 2004 Police crime statistics show stable rates of recorded violent and sexual offences, but a significant increase in the resolution rate for such offences (up to 44.6 percent from 32.9 percent in 1992/93). In turn, prosecutions for offences have increased. In addition, more cases have resulted in a conviction. A number of factors may be associated with the increase in both offence resolutions and convictions. These include new technologies for the investigation of offences (DNA matching, computerisation of fingerprints) and the provision of more frontline police officers.

Demographic Impacts

Demographic change is also a factor in changes in overall crime rates. At present, the population of New Zealand is growing slowly, but is expected to increase by around 12.5 percent, from approximately 4 million in 2004, to 4.5 million in 2021. Along with this, the population is ageing, which means a progressively smaller proportion of the population will be in the age bracket (that is, 15–25 years) most at risk of engaging in criminal activity. New Zealand’s population growth is also expected to occur predominantly in the top half of the North Island.

Sub-types of Offences and Offenders

Violence and Sexual Offences
Although the rate of growth in violent crime has now slowed, it still remains at significant levels. Of all offenders received annually to prison, approximately 27 percent are sentenced for violent or sexual offences. However, because their sentences are on average considerably longer, violent and sex offenders constitute approximately 40 percent of the prison population at any one time. This pattern is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

Alcohol and Drugs
Abuse of, or dependence on, drugs and alcohol are factors in the offending of a substantial proportion of offenders. A 1999 study of prisoners suggested that approximately 83 percent either currently met, or at some point in their lives had met, the criteria for a substance abuse or dependence disorder. This figure is several times greater than the corresponding rate for the general population.

Driving Offenders
Offenders with driving convictions constitute 21 percent of all receptions to prisons, although their relatively short sentences mean that they make up only approximately 6 percent of the prison population at any one time. Driving with excess alcohol and driving while disqualified are the most common offence types. There has been a sharp increase in the numbers of repeat offenders being sentenced to imprisonment. Many imprisoned driving offenders are persistent re-offenders who have failed to respond to less severe sanctions. A significant proportion of driving offenders also have serious alcohol problems.

Property Offenders
Property offenders are the single largest sub-group of offenders, and tend to have the highest recidivism rates. As with driving offenders, the Police prioritisation of burglary appears to have resulted in an increasing number of such offenders being convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.

Young Offenders
A priority for the justice sector is to prevent young offenders from continuing criminal activity into adulthood. Young offenders have the highest recidivism rates of all groups, and it is estimated that up to 20 percent of young offenders will continue to be persistent offenders during their adult years. Preventing young offenders from progressing to a life of crime is a priority for the Department, as is ensuring that vulnerable young prisoners are managed humanely and separately from adults.

Female Offenders
Female offenders constitute a small percentage of offenders in the prison  population (6%) and a larger proportion of offenders serving community-based sentences (18%). A small but steady growth in the number of female offenders has been observed over recent years, and this appears likely to continue into the future. Though typically at a lower risk of re-offending than males, female offenders tend to present with a wider range of needs.

Maori and Pacific
Maori continue to be greatly overrepresented within criminal justice statistics. While 14.5 percent of the population currently identify as Maori, nearly 50 percent of prisoners, and 45 percent of those serving communitybased sentences, identify as Maori. This has been a feature for a number of years, and continues even while indicators in many other areas of social wellbeing for Maori appear to be improving.

Although to a lesser extent than for Maori, Pacific peoples are also overrepresented within criminal justice statistics constituting 6.5 percent of the general population, but 11 percent of the prison population and 17 percent of those serving community-based sentences.

New Migrants
A striking feature of New Zealand society of the past 20 years has been the increasing number of migrants, particularly from countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As a consequence, the proportion of the offender population who are recent migrants is also growing. Four percent of prisoners report an ethnicity other than Maori, Pacific or New Zealand European.

Long-serving Prisoners
The Sentencing Act 2002 is likely to have contributed to an increased number of prisoners serving sentences of preventive detention, as well  as lifesentence prisoners with very long (over 13 years) non-parole periods. As at 30 June 2005, there were 202 preventive detainees, and 357 prisoners serving life sentences – together, representing 8 percent of the entire sentenced population. Over time, prisoners serving indeterminate sentences are likely to constitute a growing proportion of the total prison population.

Corrections’ Services

Growing Prison Population
The Department currently operates in an environment where a range of recent legislative initiatives have had, or are likely to have, a significant effect on prison volumes, despite the decreasing trends in crime rates reported above. For example, the Bail Act 2000 provided wider grounds for remanding an offender in custody prior to trial and/or sentencing. Similarly, the Sentencing Act 2002 and Parole Act 2002 make it likely that longer prison sentences will be imposed in certain cases, and that a larger proportion of the sentences will be served in prison.

While the number of people in prison over the past 20 years has been steadily increasing, the last 12 months have seen a sharp increase.  There are now 164 people in prison for every 100,000 of population; double the imprisonment rate that applied in 1980. While this rate remains well below the level of imprisonment within the United States (approximately 700 per 100,000), it is now significantly higher than the rate in New Zealand’s primary international benchmark jurisdictions (see table 3 below).

The 2004 Ministry of Justice prison population forecast indicates that ongoing growth in prison numbers is likely, with a continuing increase over the next five years taking the prison population of 6,961 at 30 June 2005 to 7,800 by March 2010, an increase of 12 percent.

For much of 2004/05, the prison population exceeded forecast levels. Nationally, the increased numbers of prisoners has exceeded the  number of beds available in prisons. Prisoners have been accommodated through the use of the Department’s operational buffer and disaster recovery capacity, double bunking in some accommodation and the temporary use of police and court cells. Increasing prisoner numbers challenge the Department, not only to provide additional capacity, but also to maintain safe and secure custody and the effectiveness of existing rehabilitative programmes.

Table 3: Rates of Imprisonment (per 100,000 of Population) for 2003/04

New Zealand

England / Wales









Community-based Sentences
While the number of offenders in prison has increased, the number serving community based sentences (supervision, community work, parole, home detention, release on conditions) has remained relatively stable, at approximately 40,000 new starts per year. This state is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Rehabilitation and Reintegration
The Department has strongly embraced the philosophy of offender rehabilitation and reintegration to help reduce re-offending. A range of services target offenders’ motivation to change and the specific causes of criminal offending. Reintegrative services then target the development of basic skills prior to release and provide support to offenders returning to the community.

Within the context of a renewed concentration on reintegration, supporting early intervention (around the time of birth, pre-school and during schooling) is seen as an important part of developing long-term solutions for reducing the problem of crime. The Department supports early intervention with mother and baby facilities, selfcare units and improved reintegrative support services.

Broader Influences

The Department operates in an environment where many social processes influence its operations. Some of the more important of these are listed below.

  • A high level of public support exists for continued use of imprisonment as a primary criminal justice sanction, particularly in cases of violence, or for recidivist offenders.
  • A similarly high level of public concern has been expressed recently in relation to the small number of high-risk offenders released from prison, and the management of such persons.
  • Advocates for crime victims continue to be vocal in arguing for a justice system that better respects the rights and needs of victims.
  • An increasing tendency for prisoners and former prisoners to use litigation through the courts as a means of pursuing personal grievances.
  • In seeking to support the reintegration of offenders, the Department needs to work cooperatively with statutory agencies to provide the assistance that released offenders require.
  • New Zealanders are aware that this country is not immune to the spread of cyber crime and trans-national crime, as well as the potential for terrorist activity and other threats to national security.
  • New Zealand recognises a growing number of international treaties and protocols, some of which relate directly to the treatment of offenders.
  • The rate of unemployment nationally (3.7% at June 2005) is currently the lowest since 1986. In a highemployment economy, staff recruitment and retention has become an issue for the Department, creating challenges in terms of its ability to recruit the additional staff necessary to meet the requirements of natural attrition and staff new facilities. Improved retention rates are essential to optimising the balance between experienced and new staff.

Improved Service Focus

The Department remains committed to improving the way it performs its core functions of offender management, rehabilitation and reintegration. There is also a need to address the continued growth in prison population levels. Consequently, there is interest, shared by other agencies in the justice sector, in the following areas of development.

  • Increased use of risk assessment procedures for the early identification of high-risk offenders, high-risk youth, and their longer-term management (under new legislation the Department began, in 2004/05, managing high-risk child-sex offenders for extended periods of up to ten years following the expiry of the normal parole restrictions).
  • The potential use of new technologies in sentence administration, including voice verification and global positioning tools.
  • Enhancing custodial operating environments to encourage prisoners to take greater responsibility for their actions and pursue personal change during the period of incarceration.
  • Greater levels of involvement by Maori and Pacific communities in the work of managing offenders and ensuring their successful reintegration in the community, as well as in shaping the Department’s policies and procedures.
  • Improved coordination of services across government sectors to facilitate reintegration.

The Department remains committed to considering research evidence as a basis for improving practices within its operations. Evidence-based practice is

The following table highlights rates of reconviction and re-imprisonment of offenders over a 12-month follow-up period for released prisoners and community-sentenced offenders.

Table 4: Rates of Reconviction and Re-imprisonment (percentage within 12 months)

Release period

From prison

From community sentence

Re-imprisoned %

Reconvicted %

Imprisoned %

Reconvicted %











perhaps best exemplified by the ways that the services and procedures that make up the Department’s sentence management framework – the induction, assessment, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders – have been designed and implemented with reference to sound empirical evidence regarding effectiveness.


The Ministry of Justice prison population forecast predicts growth in prisoner numbers will continue for the next five years, which suggests that further expansion of prison facilities may be necessary. However, there is general consensus that the high fiscal and social costs associated with imprisonment make unrestrained growth undesirable. The Department is committed to working with other justice sector agencies to examine all options whereby such growth can be contained, while at the same time ensuring that community safety is not compromised. Achieving this balance demands a better and more complete understanding of the factors that are driving rising imprisonment rates, exploring the full range of policy and practice options that may place a brake on such growth, and developing new policies that are effective in reducing crime.

Further, the Department is committed to continuing its focus on the needs of Maori and Pacific offenders, groups  that continue to be over-represented in counts of convicted offenders. Youth and female offenders will also be the focus of improvements to services and supports. Ensuring that services are appropriate for new migrants from a range of different ethnic backgrounds is an emerging challenge.

The Department continues its quest to deliver high-quality, well-targeted and  accurately focused programmes to offenders to promote rehabilitation and reintegration, and a reduction in re-offending. Increased emphasis on educational and employment support, and reintegration initiatives that assist offenders as they make the transition back to the community, are also high priorities. However, the Department recognises that such interventions are only a part of the picture, and will continue to contribute to governmentwide initiatives to address the needs of at-risk families and children.

? The next victim crime survey is currently under way and will be published in 2006.

? Canadian data excludes prisoners serving less than two years, who are not accommodated in federal institutions.

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